President Barack Obama signed an executive order following his speech in Waukesha Thursday, instructing the vice president and other officials to conduct a nationwide reform of employment and training programs.
The president spoke at General Electric’s Waukesha Gas Engines, emphasizing his focus on specialized skill set training for manufacturing workers. Obama echoed many sentiments from his State of the Union Address Tuesday, including his declaration that he would not wait for Congress and repeating his calls for an increase in the federal minimum wage.
“We’ve got all the ingredients we need to make sure that America thrives,” Obama said. “The question for folks in Washington is whether they’re going to help or they’re going to hinder the process.”
The president also presented four goals for making 2014 a “breakthrough” year for the country.
Obama said the first goal is to create more new jobs and train Americans with the skill sets to fill those jobs. He said GE serves as a model for programs he would like to implement throughout the country to develop stronger skills for Americans in the workforce.
The third goal is to guarantee every child access to a “world-class” education, he said.
Obama said it is important to ensure young people are trained for the constantly changing labor market. He pointed to a local high school program that works with GE to give students apprenticeships in manufacturing, so when they graduate they have both a diploma and a technical certificate.
“In this rapidly changing economy, we also have to make sure that folks can fill those jobs,” he said
The president said there is a need to take a job-driven approach to training, as opposed to “wasting” resources training for jobs that may no longer be in high demand.
He said part of this problem is that young people do not always realize the opportunities available to the in today’s labor market.
Although manufacturing jobs may not require a four year degree, Obama said they open “pathways” to a middle class income.
“Manufacturing jobs typically pay well,” Obama said. “We want to encourage more of them.”
Obama also announced the creation of a nationwide competition in which community colleges would partner with local employers and national industries to design job-training programs.
He said $500 million in investment funding would be awarded to the winner and he hopes to see at least one applicant from every state.
The president’s fourth goal is to ensure that those who are working hard are earning “a decent wage.” He said the country is better off when the average American has money to spare.
Obama said although the economy has grown and corporate incomes are up, the average working wage has barely increased.
Obama also repeated his State of the Union calls for equal pay for women. He said families with two equal-earning breadwinners are more likely to “make ends meet.”
“Americans overwhelmingly agree, nobody who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty,” Obama said.
The president concluded his speech by signing the executive order before heading to Nashville to speak on education.
Aliya Iftikhar contributed reporting to this article.
[Photo: Chris Lotten, The Badger Herald]